Code names and women only zones: Inside the Lancaster University pro-Palestine encampment

The protesters have even set up a library in one tent for students to have study breaks


The pro-Palestine encampment taking place in Alexandra Square is currently on its sixth day and according to the students taking part, it’s growing every day.

The protestors have set out three demands for the university in order for the encampment to end. These are that Lancaster University “publicly supports an immediate and permanent ceasefire,” that it does not “pursue disciplinary action against students and staff involved in protests,” and that it cuts ties with arms companies, particularly BAE Systems.

We spoke to two students currently involved in the protest to see how the encampment is progressing.

‘We’re getting lots of support’

The students are currently using code names when talking about the encampment in order to protect their own identity. One student, who is going by the name Strepsils, spoke to us about the encampment’s progress so far.

“We’re all doing great,” they said, “pretty much every night we’re having campers, so we’re expanding.

“We’ve recently introduced a women’s only zone so that Islamic women feel like they can camp and they have been now […] we’re just trying to, you know, change things for the camp, make it more inclusive.”

‘The US [encampments] did all the plugging for us’

When asked why Demilitarise Lancaster decided to begin an encampment at this moment in the conflict, Strepsils credited the US encampments as the group’s inspiration.

“The US encampments have exploded all over the media, they’re viral,” they said, “so this is partly in solidarity with them.”

Strepsils also credited earlier encampments in the UK as inspiration. “I believe we were the 15th encampment in the UK to set up,” he said, “we got there just before Leicester, who were 16th. That’s what made it possible, really, because it was on everyone’s minds.

“As a group we were already planning things and doing things – some things fell through in second term, but we’re here now, so that’s the main thing.”

‘We haven’t set a limit’

When asked how long they foresee the encampment continuing, the students said that they would stay “for as long as we can sustain it.”

“Obviously, if our demands are met, we’ll leave,” Strepsils added.

Another student protester, going by the name Fish, said that they are “very prepared to stay a long time.

“We’ve got so much food, we’ve got loads of tents, we’ve got loads of sleeping equipment, so we’re here for the long run.”

Lancaster University has yet to respond to Demilitarise Lancaster’s demands. When we asked whether the group had a main aim in these demands, Strepsils said “cutting ties with the BAE is the main one. For me […] lots of them are sub-clauses of that.”

In 2022, Lancaster University signed a Memorandum of Understanding with BAE Systems “enabling further shared research into sustainable technologies and deepening engagement with regional business to enhance business to enhance business growth and opportunity.”

This memorandum formalised the existing partnership between the university and BAE Systems, with their employees “completing training courses” at the university.

‘Just turn up’

The students also said people who aren’t currently camping are welcome to join in with the encampment, or come to their community meals and events.

“We’ve got loads of spare camping equipment,” Strepsils said, “so if you’re thinking about camping, you can, we have the facilities. You don’t need to have camped before, even, we can accommodate you. Also, you can come for our evening meals.”

They added that people often “feel bad” for taking food from those camping, however they added that they have “lots” of it and would love for people to join them. “Just having people in the camp at all times fosters a community.”

“Management look down on us,” Strepsils said, “they’re up in their offices, they look out the window and they see the camp’s alive. That’s good, that’s a visible presence and that also makes people feel more welcome to come in.”

The camp also has a library in one of their tents, where people are invited to “have a study break.”

Fish added that everyone is welcome to join them for their welcome event on Tuesday 14th May at 2pm. They recommended people come if they are “not sure what our systems are” and “want to get involved,” so they can see the process and have a tour.

In a statement to the Lancaster Tab on 14th May 2024, Lancaster University said: “The university is committed to upholding the right to freedom of speech for our staff and students and enabling them to peacefully protest within the law.

“Our work with BAE Systems underpins a range of activities and deepens our engagement with regional business, enhancing growth and opportunity.  We also support our academics’ freedom to identify and associate with legitimate organisations as part of their research activity and for our students to make their own informed choices about where they work. This academic freedom is supported by university policy and forms part of our regulatory and legal obligations.

“Our investment policy, entered into through close working with the Students’ Union, works with funds that do not invest in arms companies and the university does not hold any investments in BAE.

“Universities are places for people to express their views and listen to those of others – including those they do not agree with.

“The safety and wellbeing of our staff and students are of paramount importance to us, as is the need for all students to be able to continue to go about their studies without fear or harassment. The university continues to operate as normal and we will show no tolerance towards hate speech of any kind.”

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